Crescent City Connection

February 2018 View more

It is one of the unfortunate coincidences of the calendar that Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday, the last gluttonous day before Lenten fasts begin) every year lands smack dab in the middle of winter.

This isn’t particularly unfortunate, of course, for the citizens of New Orleans (or those out-of-towners fortunate to manage a mid-February getaway to the Big Easy), where this annual bacchanalia enjoys one of its fullest embraces amid generally temperate Gulf Coast conditions. But for those of us stuck in the arctic Midwest, the traditional notion of dancing in the snow-covered streets seems less celebratory than certifiable.

But thanks to a relative newcomer on the Glen Ellyn dining scene—right on Crescent Boulevard, as fate would have it—west suburbanites looking for a
Creole fix (especially cownsidering the recent closure of the Naperville location of Heaven on Seven) can enjoy a cozy, intimate Mardi Gras celebration right here in Illinois.

Low-Key Louisiana

From the street, at least, Rue certainly doesn’t stand out as a potential party waiting to happen. While New Orleans is hardly known for subtlety, the exposed-brick space inside that formerly housed Enza Sicilian Osteria plays things cool all the way around, from the quiet, compact bar on one side to the small dining area opposite it. Simple metal tables, maybe twelve in all, are lit by candlelight and packed snugly into a room festooned with only modest nods to the Pelican State.

Perhaps the decor will intensify compared to what we saw in late December by the time Mardi Gras rolls around later this month, but in general the M.O. at Rue seems to be to tell the story of New Orleans on the plate, rather than through some party-store explosion of beads and masks—which is exactly the approach we were hoping for.

Cajun Flair

The menu matches the general low-key vibe at Rue, content to serve up its straightforward take on the region’s distinctive cuisine without veering into caricature or cheap imitation. Yes, one can start the evening with a hurricane and a plate of gator bites, but even these obvious entries get a loving touch—steeped in history and tradition rather than the often overblown, cartoonish Cajun presentations one might encounter elsewhere.

Bypassing the gator and several oyster options, we decided to get things started instead with the crab cake, which was situated on a small bed of greens and plated as a true work of art. This well-constructed patty of claw meat also gave us the first opportunity of several on the night to sample the tangy and just-spicy-enough Rue remoulade sauce. We also shared a hearty bowl of the gumbo, the combination of rice, sausage, chicken and okra providing just the internal insulation we needed on a cold winter’s night.


The entree slate includes many of the usual New Orleans suspects, including shrimp Creole, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee, but we had a taste for fried catfish and decided to get our fix from the massive po’ boy sandwich (which, not coincidentally, gave us another taste of that fantastic remoulade), while also splitting an order of the blackened chicken pasta. To the side was an order of the hush puppies—three Death Star–sized orbs of cornmeal and herbs served with, you guessed it, more remoulade for dipping (perhaps a direct IV drip of the stuff would have been more efficient on this evening).

Given the choice of several sweets to cap off the meal—including bananas foster and bread pudding—we   found it difficult to resist the deep-fried temptation of the beignets, four golden dough bombs sprinkled with powdered sugar and served piping hot. Without the endless line of tourists snaking from the riverside Café Du Monde, it didn’t quite feel exactly like New Orleans, but then, for a couple of hours, it didn’t feel quite like northern Illinois either.